SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – Handmade inspirational and holiday cards created by students at John F. Kennedy and John E. Riley Elementary students will soon be on their way to hospitalized children throughout the United States.

Earlier this month, a character education initiative focusing on ‘caring’ and ‘kindness’ was launched at the two schools. “We really wanted to do something that would go along with that caring theme but that would also show the students that it isn’t just about caring for people we know. That it goes beyond that,” said Melissa Zurawiecki, guidance counselor for both Riley and Kennedy schools.\

While students have created and sent cards to local New Jersey hospitals during the holidays in the past, the goal this year was to spread hope beyond the Garden State. To do so, Zurawiecki selected the Cards for Hospitalized Kids organization (www.cardsforhospitalizedkids.com), an Illinois-based non-profit established dedicated to bringing providing joy through cards to children in hospitals and Ronald McDonald Houses throughout the country.

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To provide students with background on the organization, a video about the organization and its founder, Jen Rubino, was shown to students and almost immediately, cards began pouring in.

“We showed the kids the video in the morning and by lunch time we had already started to get cards,” said Riley Principal Leo Whalen. 

“After watching the video in the morning, our students were really motivated to make a difference in the life of someone else,” said Kennedy Principal Kevin Hajduk. “Many of our students also spent their time at home with their families creating beautiful cards to send to hospitalized children.”

Over the first week of the initiative, students decorated dozens of pieces of construction paper with drawings, photos, stickers, holiday greeting and inspirational messages ranging from ‘You’re Awesome,’ ‘Be Brave,” “Stay Strong,” and more. “All the students are being super creative. Each one is different,” said Zurawiecki.

In addition to showing kindness and caring though the card campaign, Riley this month organized two different Student Council Spirit Days to raise money for South Plainfield families in need. On Dec. 8; students paid $2 each to take part in Pajama Day, raising $330, and a second fundraising effort, Ugly Sweater Day, is planned for Dec. 13.

The Cards for Hospitalized Kids initiative will end at both Riley and Kennedy School on Friday, Dec. 15 at which time the cards will be collected and shipped to the organization’s Chicago headquarters where they will be distributed to hospitals and Ronald McDonald Houses throughout the 50 states.

“The character education program, for us, is about keeping these pillars visible in the eyes of the student. These programs are important and doing something like this lets them see that they are different ways for them to care about others,” said Whalen.

In addition to the Cards for Hospitalized Children initiative, the Kennedy School community has been busy collecting gifts for those in need this holiday season. According to Hajduk, two holiday ‘giving trees’ were set up at the school with Kennedy School staff, parents, and students selecting gift tags from the tree and purchasing items for local families.

“The pillars of character education are evident in our schools throughout the school year…Throughout the entire school year, the culture at Kennedy School is always focused on caring and kindness,” said Hajduk. “Our school motto emphasizes these terms and it is great to see that at this time of the year, we include activities that help many individuals during the holiday season of giving”

Hajduk added, “Riley School and Kennedy School are extremely fortunate Mrs. Zurawiecki and Intern School Counselor Ms. Ashnault brought the holiday card initiative to our building this year. It has been a great addition to our schools and I look forward to it becoming a tradition each year in our schools.”

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